A Sermon for the Twenty-First Sunday After Pentecost

Sunday, October 30, 2022

By: Geoff Simril


Dear Heavenly Father,

We beseech thee, give us that due sense of all thy mercies, that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; and that we show forth thy praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to thy service.

Good morning.  I’m glad to be with you today.

I’d like to talk to you about what Stewardship means to me.

I’ll start by saying that I don’t really love the word Stewardship.  To me, it’s cold and administrative.  It has synonyms like governance that are even colder.

We need something better, something that means giving back with a grateful heart.

I have two ways in mind.

The first is simply, “THANKS IN ACTION.”

Paul says we should be overflowing with gratitude, and, when we are, I think God wants more from us than grateful words.  He wants us to be “doers of the Word.” He wants our time.  God wants us to ACT.

My wife Patsy and I have been given so many blessings by God. We have so much to be thankful for.  And, St. Mary’s is our spiritual home, the place that Patsy says, “fills her up.”  So, we choose to put our thanks in action here.  We pledge, and that helps the Church with financial planning.   But, the main reason we pledge is that it’s a commitment.  A pledge is a commitment to God, and we want to commit to God here.

We also put our THANKS IN ACTION here by serving.  I like to cook, Patsy likes to teach Sunday School, and we both like to read and serve as Lay Eucharistic Ministers.  There are many opportunities here to give God your time.  Join us in what we like to do, or there are Mission trips, Welcomer’s, Fellowship, Grounds, Altar Guild, Pastoral Care, Goochland Cares, Caritas.

Patsy and I feel that we get more out of each act of thanks than we put into it.  Each deepens our connection with God here and strengthens our connection to our St. Mary’s family, to all of you.

To tell you about the other way I think of Stewardship, I’d like to share a story.  A story that’s very meaningful to me.

It was the second Saturday in May 2020.   FULL COVID SHUTDOWN

Fortunately, the weather was great—that beautiful May weather we had in spades that year

It had really rained the night before—the kind of thunderstorm that wakes you up—but, that morning, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and it was going to be in the 70s.

Patsy and I worked in the garden for a few hours and then went inside for lunch.  At about 2:00, I asked the same question I had asked every day since mid-March, “Now what?”  So, like most days—I got up and went to the Food Lion on Patterson.  I wandered around, looked at things I never buy, checked the toilet paper inventory.  After about 10 minutes, thought I guess I should go home.

I drove out the side onto Westbriar.  When I got to the intersection of Westbriar and Patterson by the gas station, I was only looking left.   There was a car coming, pretty far away, but it was in my lane, so I gunned it to the left lane and kept accelerating.  As I steadied the car, I glanced to my right and saw something unusual and disturbing But, then I was past him.

What I had seen was a man on crutches, just past the gas station, walking west on Patterson.

My first thought was, “where is he going?  There’s nothing ahead of him.”

My second thought was, “this is not good.  This is really not good.”  I started imagining all the ways it could end badly.  So, as soon as I could, I made a U-turn.  When I got back to the area, I was relieved to see that he was all right.  But he hadn’t made much progress.  He was sitting on the guard rail by Tuckahoe Creek.

I made another u-turn at Westbriar, and I approached slowly, so I could get a better look and try to understand.  I could see he had on several coats, and he had a backpack.   And, I could see why he was on crutches.  His right leg had been amputated above the knee.

As I slowed to a stop, he got off the rail quickly walked toward me with a big smile.  I rolled down my window, and said, “Can I help you?  Do you need a ride somewhere?”

He said, “yeah, I’m going to live with my sister in Charlottesville.”  And I thought CHARLOTTESVILLE?

I asked, and he told his name was James.   I said, “James, I can’t take you all the way to Charlottesville.

But, you know what, get in.  I’ll take you to Goochland; that’s about ½ way, and we’ll get you ride from there.”

So, James got in, and off we went, west on Route 6.

The first question I asked, “James, where do you live?”

He said, “Oh, I live over in Byrd Park.”

And I said, “BYRD PARK!!”

James said, “yeah, last night I decided that there wasn’t nothin’ for me here in Richmond, so I was going to go live with my sister.  So, I got my things and left my apartment.”

“But, James, how did you get here?”

He said, “Oh, I caught some rides.”

“How many?”

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe 3.

I was trying to figure out how one gets from Byrd Park to Patterson and Westbriar, when I remembered the rain.

“James, it really rained last night; what did you do?”

He said, “Oh, I found an empty house, and the door wasn’t locked, so I spent the night in there.”

My mind was reeling, trying to imagine all of this.

I looked at James.  He wasn’t looking at me.  His eyes were fixed on the road ahead.   And he was so calm.   The calm permeated the car, and, as we traveled on, I found that I was really calm.  It was a new kind of calm for me.

We talked as we headed west; I asked him questions about his life. I learned about his childhood and family and work, I learned he had been in the army, and I learned of the tractor accident that cost him his leg.

As you might imagine, he had had a hard life.  Since the accident, every step in life is work for James.

As he talked about his life, James didn’t express any complaints or disappointment, no woe is me, no life is unfair life is, no anger.   He seemed just to accept his life, in spite of all his troubles.

And that was contagious, too.   Right before Goochland, I suddenly had this sense that I was somehow the best Geoff that there was—a Geoff I had never known before.  All of the stuff I carry with me every day—frustration, disappointment, impatience, anxiety, insecurity, anger, judgment, condescension.  None of that was in the car.

When we got to Goochland, we came to the top of a steep hill.  At the top of the next hill was the entrance to 64.  At the bottom of the hill, there was a Food Lion, and I thought, “that’s perfect.”

Then, I noticed that there were only 3 cars in the lot, and there was no other traffic.  I realized how stupid, how selfish my idea had been in the first place, and I said, “James, this isn’t going to work.  I’ll take you to Charlottesville.”

I sped down the hill and up the next, and As we turned onto 64, I was really happy.  The best word for it is joy.  “I get to be the one to deliver James to his sister!”

When we go to Charlottesville, I pulled into a Wells Fargo, and I parked.  I thought this is the perfect place to sit and map where we’re going.  So, I got navigation ready, and I asked, “James, where does your sister live?”

He said, “Well… I’m not exactly sure.”

I thought WHAT?

I had to look away.  I didn’t want him to see my face, and I was trying to buy some time to figure out what to do next.

I’ve got nothing.  I wasn’t coming up with any ideas.   After a little bit, James said, “let’s just drive around.  I’ll see something.”   I wasn’t sure that the best idea, but it was the only idea we had.

So, we started driving around deserted downtown Charlottesville.

I didn’t know where I was going, I was just kind of following the road, driving a little slowly, and I checked in with James a couple of times.

James, do you see anything?   James, see anything?

We were at a stoplight when a lady in another car pulled up next to us.  James rolled down his window and got her attention.  He asked her if she knew his sister, and the lady said, “no, I’m sorry, I don’t”

James started describing where his sister lived.    The nice lady said, “oh maybe you mean,” and she named an apartment complex.  She told us it was just over there.  So, we thanked her and went over there.

As we drove around the apartment complex, we didn’t see anyone to ask for help.   After a while, James said, “I don’t think this is it; I don’t recognize anything.”

I didn’t know where to go next, but I figured we had to leave there.

The road we were on went downhill to a T.  So, I thought, I’ll turn left and then make another left and go back up.   Right after I made the turn at the bottom of the hill, I looked up to see that we were about 40’ from a cul de sac.  In the cul de sac, there were about 8 young men outside enjoying the beautiful Saturday afternoon weather.

I just stopped my car, and I it put in park.  And they started coming toward us.

Two men stood about 10’ away and watched me carefully, while one went up to James’ open window.  He looked at James, he looked at me, and he said to James and said, “are you ok?”

James said, “yeah, yeah, I’m fine.  I’m looking for my sister,” and he asked if the man knew her.  The man said, “no, I don’t think so.”

And then there was a pause.  No one was saying anything.

When, all of a sudden, the man said, “Wait a minute, is she friends with …and he said another woman’s name?”  James said, “no.   I don’t know.  Maybe I heard that name.”

The man said, “yeah, yeah, I’m sure they’re friends.    They live over in… and he named another apartment complex.   “It’s just 2 miles away.”

We thanked them.  I backed the car up, and we went back up the hill, and we drove 2 miles away.   No one was outside, but it didn’t matter. Pretty soon after we got there, James said, “this is it, this is it!”  He directed me to his sister’s place.  As soon as I parked, James was out of the car.  It was a long walk uphill to the door, and James was making his way as fast as he could.   When he got about 20 feet from the door, a big guy came out, smiling.  He put his arm around James and helped him get inside.  The door closed, and, just like that, James was gone.

I sat back and thought, “what just happened?”   What happened today?” And I drove home in a daze.

Here’s why this story is so meaningful to me.

Consider that narrative objectively.  The ending is improbable.  James and I were wandering cluelessly though Charlottesville.  We talked to just two people, two random strangers, and we found his sister.

The beginning is even more absurd.  James left his apartment on his own to with no resources and no plan a rainy night to go live his sister.  He found shelter in an abandoned house.  To get from Byrd Park to Patterson and Westbriar is incredibly convoluted.   But, yet, he somehow got 3 rides on a Covid Saturday.

With nothing going for him but determination and faith, a severely handicapped man was delivered to his sister 60 miles away in less than 24 hours.

I think that sequence of events is impossible, really.  It can’t happen.

So, how did it happen?

There’s not a doubt in my mind.  It was a miracle.

Where there is a miracle, there is Jesus.  I think, no I KNOW, that I was in the presence of the Lord.  I don’t know if Jesus was James or if Jesus was working through James.  But, He was there.

In church, we talk about “the peace of God which passes all understanding.”  Those are so much more than just words to me, now.  I felt that peace.

In that miracle, Jesus comforted the poor, and he healed the sick in a way.

And, He also gave the sight to the blind.

Let me explain.  In the New Testament, Jesus tells us over and over again to love one another, to love our neighbor as ourselves.

But I have never really understood what kind of love that is.   I figured it had to be more than just “follow the Golden Rule.”  But, I really didn’t know.

Now I do.

What I felt for James wasn’t pity or sympathy or even empathy.  What I felt was a complete, unfettered affection for him, with no regard for anything but his spirit.

The lesson that Jesus had for me that day was “all you have to do to love  another is simply connect with their spirit.” Then, everything falls into place.

Now that God finally has my attention, I’m aware of him sometimes and I see his work everywhere.  Random acts of kindness, people going out of their way to help others, people making strangers laugh, connecting with each other spiritually.   Acting out the love that Jesus wants us to feel for others.

Two weeks ago, the Rev John Miller talked about this beautifully when he spoke of “LOVE IN ACTION.”

THANKS IN ACTION and LOVE IN ACTION. That’s what Stewardship means to me.

Here’s what I believe.

When you participate in any Stewardship activity at St Mary’s—when you put your THANKS IN ACTION by working with others here—you can connect with their spirits.

Paul says “let all you do be done in love.”

Whatever our Stewardship activity—pledging or serving—when it’s an act of love, when love is in our hearts, we can also connect with the HOLY SPIRIT.